Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Doomsday Thinking

Published in The Fiji Times - Friday, November 20, 2009

I was introduced to the "Prophecies of Nostradamus," in the mid-1980s when my father brought home a documentary movie featuring the actor/director Orson Welles. Welles is known as much for his poignant films such as Citizen Kane as his live radio play of War of the Worlds which threw America into a panic when many people mistakenly thought it was real news coverage of an alien invasion.

For a young child, this film was life-altering as I heard of Michel de Notre Dame's many prophecies which had come true hundreds of years after his death and more importantly, the prophecies of events yet to happen. Still I remember the nightmare I had the night after watching the dramatic portrayal of the nuclear holocaust, which the according to the film, Nostradamus had predicted starting in the Middle East. Many years later, I was to reflect on the character playing the man who would begin the nuclear holocaust looking a lot like Saddam Hussain.

The prophecies of Nostradamus have been tied to every major disaster and crisis in the last century and those unfolding in this new century, including the terror attacks of September 11 2001 and the ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Recently I came across a television special by HBO which makes claims to a newly discovered "secret" book of Nostradamus which is supposed to add weight to the idea that the world as we know it will end in 2012.

This claim of the world coming to an end on December 21, 2012 gains credence from the the fact that there are "end of days" prophecies in almost every major religion, from the Christian Apocalypse to the Norse Ragnarok. References are to cataclysmic events, wars, famines and natural disasters, anarchy, one world government etc. Add to this doomsday mania the calendar of the ancient Mayans of central America which ends with a particular alignments of planets on 12/12/12 (December 12, 2012) and you have the formula for the best end-of-the-world scenario. Or the plot for a block buster film. I recently watched the movie 2012 which joins these and other dots to tell the tale of the shifting of the earth's crust and the end of the world as we know it. In an age where climate change is a major issue and where earthquakes and tsunamis are becoming all too frequent, it is the ultimate disaster movie for this generation.

But doomsayers have been proclaiming "the end is nigh" for a long time, albeit with changing signs of the times. In the mid to late twentieth century it was fear of the MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) of nuclear war, a key movie being "The Day After". The aliens have been and gone (taking Elvis with them, according to one story). We survived Y2K with no planes falling out of the sky or computers crashing. Then came Armageddon in the form of Bruce Willis saving the world from asteroids and comets, in the film of the same name. The dawn of the next ice age, an extra hot burst from the sun and climate change have now made it to the big screen as the next threats to life on earth and civilisation as we know it. That's not including terrorists, biological warfare, famine, HIV and AIDS, the H1N1 pandemic and the global economic meltdown.

As I watched the super-tsunami wash over India, Tibet and turn the Himalayas into an island group in the comfort and safety of Cinema 1 at Village Six, it hit me that no amount of training at the National Aquatic Centre is going to prepare me to swim through a wave taller than any building on the planet. Not that I will stop my early morning floats among the serious swimmers.

Given that the price for a ticket onboard one of the "Super-Arks", which held all the precious art work of human civilisation as well as Noah's required stock of animals, was a billion euros per person, perhaps surfing big waves is a good hobby to take up now. We of Oceania who live in the so-called "Ring-Of-Fire" disappeared without even a mention of Fiji Water in the script.

What this movie really got me thinking about was the futility of planning our lives so far forward that we miss living in the now. It also reminded me that as human beings we really think far too much of ourselves. This year's floods, the recent tsunamis and realities of years of cyclone disasters serve as harsh reminders that nature is a force more powerful than human will.

But these disaster stories and realities also give us an opportunity to correct our perspective on who and what is important. We are reminded of the frailty of humankind and of our failings as stewards of creation. When in the midst of disaster, where it often is every man, woman and child for themselves, selfless acts of courage and compassion display the true value of our humanity, the true mark of what we call civilisation.

Personally, I don't know what to think of the claims made in the film 2012. I am still waiting to see if we actually do "make contact" in 2010 as per the Stanley Kubrick film /Arthur C. Clarke book. What I do know is that we have two choices. We can either panic and become fatalistic, holding a "what's the point, none of this will matter" attitude. Or, whatever the future holds and until that day comes, we can embrace the life that we have our families, the vanua, our communities to which we belong and commit to working to make this world the best possible place for all God's creatures to live and give our children a planet worth living on.

* Reverend Bhagwan is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, serving as a librarian at the Davuilevu Theological College and an associate minister of the Dudley Methodist Church in Suva. All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organisation that Mr Bhagwan is affiliated with.

* Email: padrejamesgmail.com

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